I read a startling statistic recently: that over 25% of Americans said they had no one in whom they could confide or share a personal problem. While I haven’t yet tracked down the original source of this factoid, I did find out it was from a survey done in 2004, and that in a similar survey from 1985, the average number of trusted confidantes that respondents reported was three.
This raised a number of questions in my mind: first, what would a more current survey show? If this is a downward trend, it seems like an alarming one. Second, since the first survey was taken before the Internet era, and the second when Facebook was in its infancy, what role has social media played in either eroding or boosting social support? And in either of these surveys, did they ask those folks about their health or mental health?
There’s an enormous amount of scientific research, over decades, documenting what most of us know intuitively: social connection significantly affects health, as well as mental health. We humans are social animals, after all, who need to be in connection with others, to varying degrees. Even when social interactions may become a source of stress, on the whole, people need people.
So I decided to conduct my own survey, just for fun. I’m not a scientist, just a curious person who enjoys reading scientific journal articles, and I found among them a well-validated questionnaire designed to identify two aspects of social support: the number of perceived supports in a person’s life, and the degree to which they are personally satisfying. I based the first six questions in my survey on that questionnaire.
Since I also wanted to know about the role of social media, and the connection to mental health, I added my own questions on those topics, while still striving to keep the survey brief. Then I had to figure out how to conduct the survey. I’m actually one of the few remaining people on the planet who is not on Facebook, so I turned instead to my email newsletter mailing list.
The preliminary results from my survey (as of 9/1/17) are posted below. If you haven’t taken the survey and would like to, it will be available until 11/13/17.
I strongly recommend that you take the survey first, and then read the results below, so that you aren’t influenced by social opinion.
SOCIAL SUPPORT SURVEY RESULTS
• 32 people responded
• I was very relieved to see that everyone reported they have someone to support them!
• Over 50% reported they know 3 – 5 people who they can really count on to listen when they need to talk. Of the rest, 19% know 1 – 2 people, 25% know 6 – 9, and there were two respondents who have 10 or more people they can count on to listen.
• In a crisis situation, every respondent knows someone who will help, even if they have to go out of their way to do so: 16% of respondents know 1 – 2 people, 37% know 3 – 5, 34% know 6 – 9, and 16% know 10 or more.
• When consoling is needed due to a major upset, 31% of respondents know 1 – 2 people they can count on, 44% know 3 – 5 people, 22% know 6 – 9 people, and one lucky person knows more than 10.
• The degree of satisfaction for each type of social support was consistently ranked at or above “fairly satisfied.”
• As to how people usually connect with their social supports, phone or face-to-face conversation were neck-and-neck favorites, at 87% and 84%. Texting (62%) and email (53%) were also popular, with only 9% using video chat and 19% using social media.
• Over 80% of respondents chose “face to face conversation” as the most satisfying.
• As a group, respondents ranked themselves as “mostly healthy” and “mostly resilient.”
• The majority of respondents were Baby Boomers (53%), followed by Gen X’ers (37%).
One thing I would do differently if I were to do this survey over: allow respondents the option to rank their preferred means of contact, rather than limiting them to one response. I wish I had also put a box for comments in the survey itself, although a few people did contact me directly with their feedback, including this one:
Face to face is the most obvious but I have found it is contextual. I have consoled and supported and been supported by many friends/acquaintances for example on social media and it has been effective and satisfying. Typically face to face is impractical or not appropriate to the relationship.
So thank you, everyone who responded! Besides satisfying my curiosity, I hope that taking the survey stimulated your thinking about your social support network, whether it’s to appreciate how many people you do have that you can count on in times of need, or to acknowledge that your network may need some boosting. And now you can compare your results with others, which is one of one of the many ways that people use social interactions – to see how we rank, and to find out whether other people feel the same way. It’s good for our health to know we’re not alone.
In the next post I will write about some really interesting research findings on social support and its role in health and mental health, so please come back and read!